It's kind of sad watching Paul Walker, who died tragically late last year, in this weekend's new action thriller "Brick Mansions" because you know you won't have much good to say about the film when it's over.
Here's hoping "Fast and Furious 7" gives Walker a better send-off later this year.
In "Brick Mansions," Walker plays Damien, an undercover cop who gets teamed up with Lino, a cop killer (David Belle) who's not really a cop killer (the cop was crooked!). Their mission is to go after a local drug lord named Tremaine, played by Wu Tang Clan founder RZA. Tremaine is the unofficial lord of a walled-off section of Detroit housing projects called the Brick Mansions, and intel suggests he has acquired a bomb that is set to take out the city unless Damien and Lino can diffuse it in time. He also kidnapped Lino's girlfriend Lola (Catalina Denis) and may be responsible for the murder of Damien's father.
Though Walker's tragic death has taken center stage in all of his final films, "Brick Mansions" is actually supposed to be a showcase for his co-star. Belle is the inventor of Parkour, a kind of urban gymnastics that involves climbing, running and jumping around various obstacles. Parkour videos have been popular online for several years (including one local example from Bountiful), and the activity seems perfect for big-screen action.
Unfortunately, Belle is painfully under used in the film, reserved for a handful of creative action sequences that are mired in an avalanche of bad action clichés. "Brick Mansions" goes through cartoon bad guys like they are going out of style. None of them can act or fire a gun straight, even when shooting an automatic weapon at a distance of 5 feet. Maybe all the exaggerated bad-guy expressions on their faces make it hard to see.
For all of his resourcefulness, Tremaine somehow managed to hire the world's worst sniper. And remember that awful cliché where we see the bad guy using a meat cleaver to cut up food in a menacing fashion? You know, because the bad guy is really kind of sophisticated and likes to cook homemade meals when he isn't cooking up master plans? "Brick Mansions" gives Tremaine that scene. Twice.
Somewhere in the middle of multiple car chases, gun battles and fist fights, "Brick Mansions" tries to give the audience a message about class repression, which would be great if it didn't spend 90 minutes glorifying the kind of gang warfare that its message would supposedly subvert. Sometimes you wish a movie like this would just be what it is: a stuntman showcase.
"Brick Mansions" is actually a remake of a 2004 French film called "District B13," which also starred Belle, and was also co-written by Luc Besson. Given "District B13's" superior reputation (80 percent fresh on RottenTomatoes.com), there's a good chance the filmmakers dumbed-down "Brick Mansions" for American audiences. So maybe we only have ourselves to blame.
"Brick Mansions" is rated PG-13 for non-stop mayhem, violence, profanity and some mild sexual content.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. You can see more of his work at woundedmosquito.com.